Legislature's Top Republicans Say It's Up To Evers To Make First Move On Transportation Funding
(WPR)---The state Legislature's top Republicans both said Wednesday that they would be open to adding toll roads in Wisconsin but that it would be up to Gov. Tony Evers to set the direction for transportation funding in his budget.
"I have become a bigger believer in the idea," said Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, at a meeting of the Wisconsin Counties Association.
"We have the ability to toll in an awful lot of Wisconsin," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester told reporters afterward. "You can do it on bridges. You can do it in an awful lot of places around the state."
It's not the first time Fitzgerald and Vos have come out in favor of tolling. Fitzgerald announced his support for the idea at last year's Wisconsin Counties Association meeting. Vos first floated the idea at least seven years ago.
But the idea never gained traction with former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who vetoed a $2.5 million tolling study Republican lawmakers added to the last state budget. Fitzgerald said last year that study would have been the final step needed before the state could move forward with tolling.
Evers said during his campaign for governor that "all options are on the table" when it comes to road funding, including tolls, though he has not said yet what his first budget proposal will call for.
Vos and Fitzgerald both suggested they'd support another tolling study if Evers called for it, though they said they were taking a wait-and-see approach.
They also said they'd be open to passing some type of short-term road funding fix before tolling took effect, but they wouldn't specify what they wanted.
"First I want to see what Gov. Evers is going to propose," Vos said. "He has to make the first move."
Vos and Assembly Republicans pushed aggressively for increasing taxes or fees for roads in the last budget debate, with Vos regularly sparring with Walker and a handful of Senate Republicans.
But Wednesday he said those inter-party arguments would be a thing of the past.
"I can promise you one thing," Vos said. "The Assembly Republicans and the Senate Republicans are not going to fight about transportation."
Democratic leaders said having Evers in the governor's office could change the dynamic of the transportation debate.
"What has changed is the leadership," said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. "We don't have a governor who has threatened to use his veto pen on anything that comes forward."
Democrats have regularly supported returning Wisconsin to a system where the gas tax was increased automatically to keep pace with inflation, known as gas tax indexing.
"I mean a gas tax with indexing would certainly stop the bleeding," said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. "But we're still going to face challenges. There's simply more to do than there are resources."
Hintz said he could support adding toll roads if necessary but said he'd prefer the state explore other sources of funding.
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